UNESCO Social and Human Sciences
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MOST Clearing House Linguistic Rights

International Legal Instruments




UNESCO MOST Policy on Linguistic Rights


International Legal Instruments


Major Non-Governmental Documents


National Constitutions





International Human Rights Law plays an important role in setting standards for linguistic rights and, especially, for the protection and promotion of the identity of linguistic minority groups. It provides the normative framework for developing principles of democratic governance and multicultural policies aimed at managing ethno-linguistic conflict.

To raise awareness about linguistic rights and to provide tools for decision-makers in governments, parliaments, and civil society, UNESCO's MOST Programme has collected the most relevant provisions in international conventions, declarations and multilateral treaties, which pertain to linguistic rights.

UN and UNESCO Declarations and Conventions Relevant to Linguistic Rights 

The rights of persons belonging to linguistic minorities have been increasingly acknowledged in international human rights law as both individual and collective human rights. For a legal discussion of the provisions listed below see the publications displayed in the Bibliography

UN and UNESCO Recommendations Relevant to Linguistic Rights

The final documents and recommendations of international conferences concerning education acknowledge the role that education can have in promoting language diversity and ensuring linguistic rights. The Draft Recommendation on the Promotion and Use of Multilingualism and Universal Access to Cyberspace (2001) promotes language preservation and diversity through access to electronic services and resources.

European Declarations and Conventions Relevant to Linguistic Rights 

Within the frameworks of the Council of Europe, the European Union and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE, formerly CSCE), the rights of persons belonging to regional and minority language groups have been addressed in multilateral treaties and conventions. The most important are:

Inter-American Declarations and Conventions Relevant to Linguistic Rights 

A number of instruments deal with language rights, and in some cases to the linguistic rights of indigenous peoples, in the Organization of American States (O.A.S.) regional human rights system:

African Conventions Relevant to Linguistic Rights 

The regional system for the protection of human rights established under the Organization of African Unity has similarly addressed linguistic rights issues in two treaties:

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